Students dance to a delightful beat

Passionate enthusiasm and boundless energy ignite thunderous applause in the Anoka Middle School for the Arts auditorium when dance students performed for a capacity crowd there Jan. 10.

With movement and stretch, these ladies in pink perform for a delighted audience.Photo by Sue Austreng
With movement and stretch, these ladies in pink perform for a delighted audience.Photo by Sue Austreng

The evening dance concert was one of two staged at AMSA’s Fred Moore campus last week, each showcasing half the school’s 375 dance students and demonstrating the elements each have learned to incorporate into every dance move.

“They just love it so much. It’s so fun to see their excitement, to see them so active and engaged,” said instructor Roberta Puzon, who, along with colleague Carla Bode, teaches three dance classes at AMSA, each one school-year in length.

As students shouted greetings to each other, put their hair in ponytails and gently stretched in pre-concert preparation, Puzon and Bode described the dance classes offered at AMSA.

“This is the only dance program in all of Anoka-Hennepin,” Bode said.

Dance is unique to AMSA, no other class like it is offered at any other school in the district, she said.

It is offered to all AMSA students, no matter their ability, their size or their experience, Bode said.

Dance is as an elective class, an alternative to physical education, and AMSA Principal Jerri McGonigal said that dance “attracts the most variety of students from all walks of life.”

Indeed, the 375 students enrolled in dance at AMSA include not just the most outgoing and physically adept students, but the physically disabled, the mentally challenged and the learning impaired, too.

And all students feel the beat and move to the music.

A sort of buddy system is employed among the young dancers, offering direction to those in need of guidance, linking steps and movement and creating cohesive, naturally flowing movement to the dance.

While that smooth flowing activity moves the dancers, it moves the hearts and minds of those in the audience, too.

“Last night a grade eight special education student performed and brought tears to the eyes of his paras who work with him on a daily basis,” McGonigal said after the Jan. 8 dance concert.

That just goes to show “dance is about more than movement,” Bode said.

“Sure the students learn the elements of dance – BASTE or body, action, space, time, energy – but they also learn to work with each other, to work together for the good of the whole group,” she said.

And students and their parents love it.

“My son has ADD and dance really calms him, gives him an outlet for his energy. He really loves it,” said Zina Mikkelson, relaxing in her balcony seat in the AMSA auditorium, waiting for the Jan. 10 concert to begin.

Students sign up for dance for all kinds of reasons. Some for the pure love of dance, some because all other phy ed electives had already been exhausted.

Eighth-grader Brock Johnson, one of only a handful of male students participating in AMSA’s dance program, said he signed up because he’d already taken all the phy ed he could and dance was the only elective left.

“But it’s OK. I like it,” Brock said, glancing around at fellow dancers, his enthusiasm evident, no matter how subdued.

And then there are dance-crazed students like Sasha Keemah, whose love of dance began when she was a five-year-old taking classes at a local dance studio.

“I just love to move. It’s just really fun to feel the beat,” said Sasha, an eighth-grade AMSA level three dance student, a gleaming smile stretched beneath her twinkling eyes.

Dance class classmate Brenda Morales shares that love of movement and also recognizes benefits of a different sort.

“It helps to show your emotions – happy, excited, afraid – even if you’re mad, it’s a good way to act out your anger,” Brenda said.

And then there are some who take the stage and twist and twirl, dance and kick with the greatest of ease and dynamics of passion, and end up with an unexpected love of the spotlight.

According to Sharon Nash, her daughter Mikaylah was always shy and withdrawn, but after signing up for dance class, “she’s really come out of her shell.”

“She was always so quiet, so shy, but not anymore,” Nash said. “She’s really gained confidence, really loves to dance, really loves this class.”

Students in AMSA’s dance class not only learn to move with the beat, they learn to choreograph those moves, too. In fact, the majority of the dances performed at the Jan. 8 and 10 concerts were choreographed by the students, said Puzon.

Dance has been offered at AMSA for about 10 years, Bode said, and this year the school’s music composition students have been incorporated into the program, too, writing original music for the dance students to work their moves around.

“This has become very, very big, and it grows every year. We think it’s quite successful,” said Bode.

McGonigal agrees, calling Bode and her dance instructor partner Puzon “fantastic and incredibly hard working.”

“I can’t say enough good things about this program,” McGonigal said.

To witness the energy and enthusiasm of AMSA dance students yourself, plan to attend the program’s next concert, tentatively scheduled for May 20, 21 and 23 in the auditorium of the Fred Moore campus. Call the school at 763-506-5000 for more information.

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]